Here come the tenants

White paper dismisses argument that rent stabilization hurts construction

Jovana Fajardo and Michelle Pariset discuss rent control at a full house at Sol Collective last week.

Jovana Fajardo and Michelle Pariset discuss rent control at a full house at Sol Collective last week.

Photo by Scott Thomas Anderson

Tenants living in fear of the next rent hike. People choosing between paying rent and eating. Families having to move out as wealthier renters from the Bay Area displace them. There was no shortage of stories at a recent town hall that kicked off the battle to bring rent control and just-cause eviction regulations to Sacramento in 2020.

Organized by a coalition of community and labor groups, the February 15 event drew a full house at Sol Collective on 21st Street. Tenant advocates spent the evening explaining their upcoming campaign for the Sacramento Renter Protection and Community Stabilization Charter Amendment, as well as recruiting volunteers and neighborhood leaders to spread their message around the city.

“We’ve put all of our best talent together,” said Margarita Maldonado of SEIU Local 1000. “Now we need to get out into the community.”

Tamie Dramer of the Sacramento Central Labor Council told the gathering to prepare for an information battle.

“This is about educating when it comes to all of the myths and misconceptions that we know are going to be coming from the other side,” she said.

Indeed, the real estate industry spent nearly $80 million to defeat a statewide ballot initiative in 2018 that would have given local governments more control over rent protections. Big financial contributions came from the California Apartment Association and Blackstone, a Wall Street hedge fund that owns the majority of rental houses in Sacramento County.

Given that recent history, local rent control supporters are readying for a political street fight.

Similar efforts are spilling into all corners of California. Tenants in Richmond and Mountain View pushed for—and won—rent control protections three years ago. Now, renters in Santa Rosa, Half Moon Bay, Santa Cruz, Long Beach, Pasadena, National City, Inglewood, Glendale, Pomona, Santa Ana and parts of unincorporated Los Angeles County are demanding rent control, just-cause evictions or both.

But Sacramento’s struggle stands out because its mayor was outflanked by his own City Council members when he tried to negotiate a compromise. In July 2018, Mayor Darrell Steinberg attempted to head off the 2020 initiative by forging a rent stabilization and tenants protection measure. But that effort was abandoned around the same time council members Ricking Jennings, Steve Hansen and Eric Guerra introduced a competing measure, the Tenant Protection and Relief Act, which housing advocates claim offers no meaningful protections at all.

Jonah Paul, an organizer with Sacramento’s Democratic Socialists of America, doesn’t think Steinberg tried hard enough to craft a compromise.

“I think he could have done it,” Paul said. “We needed a champion. Now we just have each other.”

Steinberg’s office declined to offer comment for this story.

Friday’s town hall came just days after Sacramento Housing Alliance issued a white paper summarizing the extent of the region’s rental crisis and countering some common talking points against rent control.

Citing real estate data, studies by PolicyLink and internal numbers from City Hall, the alliance emphasized that Sacramento suffered the highest rent increases in the nation in 2017 and saw the median rent outpace median income growth by 3.6 percent last year. Now, 80 percent of extremely low income families are spending more than half their income on rent. The paper also notes that residents of color have been hit particularly hard, with 64 percent of African-American tenants and 59 percent of Latino tenants paying nearly a third of their income on rent.

Authored by SHA policy analyst Veronica Beaty, the paper concludes that the housing crisis is threatening to “destabilize Sacramento as a whole” because nearly half of the city’s residents are classified as low, very low or extremely low income.

The timing of SHA’s research allowed it to analyze key objections to rent control that opponents raised in 2018. The main argument the California Apartment Association and allied groups make is that rent control will discourage developers from building new housing units, thus exacerbating the crisis. SHA’s paper argues that claim simply isn’t supported by evidence or recent market trends.

“Ironically, cities with active rent stabilization policies have seen more construction of apartments than cities without rent stabilization,” Beaty wrote. “In the Bay Area, San Francisco, San Jose, and Oakland have seen more new, multifamily apartment buildings than other cities in the region, even though all three have rent stabilization policies. … Los Angeles County, which has a rent stabilization ordinance, saw a 61-percent increase in new construction from July 2016 to June 2017, with 10,000 new units built.”

This week, Bob Magnuson, a spokesman for a rent control opposition group, doubled down on the assertion the ballot measure will hurt housing.

“We all agree Sacramento has a serious affordable housing problem,” he wrote in a statement. “But this extreme and deeply flawed ballot initiative will only make the situation worse.”

Given that the Sacramento Renter Protection and Community Stabilization Charter Amendment caps rent increases at the consumer index price, between 2 percent to 5 percent annually, SHA’s research also gave advocates a broader economic message to take to local neighborhoods. The agency estimates that if all Sacramentans spent no more than 30 percent of their income on rent, there would be an extra $302 million a year circulating in the city’s economy.

Housing advocates at last week’s town hall discussed those financial dynamics, with experts standing by to translate into Spanish and Hmong. Anyone wanting to volunteer on the upcoming rent stabilization and just-cause eviction campaign can sign up at

“The start of this year is flying by,” Dramer told the crowd. “We have 12 months to build a machine.”